The Tragic Death Of Jeff Buckley

It was May of 1997 and Jeff Buckley was supposed to be recording the tracks for the follow-up to his breakout debut album, 1994's "Grace." But when he and fellow musician and roadie Keith Foti couldn't find the studio, they drove around Memphis, Tennessee until twilight to no avail, and decided to head down to the river to pass the time.  According to Rolling Stone, Foti warned Buckley as he waded out into the muddy waters of the Wolf River Harbor, a tidal water channel of the Mississippi River. "You can't swim in that water," he told his friend. "What are you doing, man?" 

However, Buckley wouldn't listen to his friend's reasoning. He was young — his 31st birthday just six months away — and at the beginning of what promised to be a spectacular career. He might have thought himself invincible at that moment. Rather than heed his worried friend's warning, Buckley instead sang the chorus of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" as he pushed out into the water.

Foti saw a boat coming Buckley's way and shouted for him to steer clear. Buckley evaded this first vessel, but then shortly after, a larger one passed by. Foti turned to save the radio from the boat's wake as it splashed ashore, and when he turned back toward the river, there was no sign of the fully clothed swimmer. That was the last Keith Foti would ever see of his friend. Buckley's deceased body was spotted five days later by someone aboard a passing riverboat.

The eerily prophetic lyrics on Buckley's debut album

Like many musicians or artists in general, Jeff Buckley's death seems almost prophesied by none other than Buckley himself. His song "Dream Brother," in which he repeatedly sings the line "asleep in the sand with the ocean washing over" is now a slightly more haunting melody than it was perhaps originally intended to be. According to Far Out Magazine, in the song, the angel of death is watching over the song's narrator as he drowns. The track now seems slightly unsettling to those who hear it and know of Buckley's tragic death.

However, "Dream Brother" isn't the only track from Buckley's LP that foreshadows the young singer's lamentable demise. In "Eternal Life," Buckley sings, "Eternal life is now on my trail / Got my red glitter coffin, man / just need one last nail." 

Maybe Jeff Buckley knew more about the end of his life than we'd like to think. Or maybe life does in fact imitate art. The lyrics of the songs he left behind certainly sound as though he had a gut feeling or two prior to his own death. Though, as with so many other musicians who predicted their own deaths, his admirers and those with itching curiosities will never know if he actually had a premonition or if it's just a coincidence that the singer died such a romantically rock 'n' roll death as drowning in the Mississippi River at a young age. Yet it stands to reason he may have had early death on his mind.

Jeff Buckley wasn't the only one in his family who died young

Anytime someone seems to breach the dichotomy between life and death it's astounding, however, in the case of his death at 30, he had likely thought about his own father's death at 28. According to Rolling Stone, Jeff Buckley had only met his singer/songwriter father, Tim Buckley, once when he was 8 years old. Two months later, Tim died from an overdose. Jeff was not mentioned in the obituary nor was he at the funeral, but later said, "I don't hate my father, and I don't resent him existing. It's just something I've grown up with all my life — not being part of a life that had so much energy."

Regardless of his father's absence, he still shared a love of music with him, saying in 1994, "I was really captured by [music] — everything about it. It was my mother, it was my father. It was my plaything, it was my toy. It was the best thing in my life" (via Rolling Stone).

When someone passes before their time, especially right as their success is about to kick off, it's heartbreaking to everyone they knew or in some way left an impression on. In Jeff Buckley's case, he is immortalized through the music that he left behind for so many to enjoy. According to the Jeff Buckley website, his cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is Buckley's most famous recording. Buckley died on May 29, 1997, but lives on eternally through his lyrics and melodies.